The chef was a short man with a shaved head. He introduced himself as Toshi Sugiura, chief executive officer (CEO) of the California Sushi Academy. He was also executive chef of the Hama Hermosa restaurant. The restaurant and the academy shared the building.
Toshi had founded the California Sushi Academy in 1998. Opening a school for sushi chefs was unprecedented. For nearly 200 years, becoming a sushi chef had required a long apprenticeship—often five or more years. Toshi wanted to train people in a few months.
Since then, a few other sushi schools had opened in L.A., including the Sushi Chef Institute, run by a former instructor at Toshi’s academy. So far, these were the only formal training programs for sushi chefs in the United States.
Toshi taught the class another word. ‘Irasshaimase!’ That meant “Welcome.” Sushi chefs yelled it whenever a customer walked in. Most Americans thought Japanese people were supposed to act quiet and dignified. But in old Tokyo, sushi chefs were loud and boisterous.